12. Introduction to GSM / GPRS Wireless Modems

12.1. What is a GSM Modem?

A GSM modem is a wireless modem that works with a GSM wireless network. A wireless modem behaves like a dial-up modem. The main difference between them is that a dial-up modem sends and receives data through a fixed telephone line while a wireless modem sends and receives data through radio waves.

A GSM modem can be an external device or a PC Card / PCMCIA Card. Typically, an external GSM modem is connected to a computer through a serial cable or a USB cable. A GSM modem in the form of a PC Card / PCMCIA Card is designed for use with a laptop computer. It should be inserted into one of the PC Card / PCMCIA Card slots of a laptop computer.

Like a GSM mobile phone, a GSM modem requires a SIM card from a wireless carrier in order to operate.

As mentioned in earlier sections of this SMS tutorial, computers use AT commands to control modems. Both GSM modems and dial-up modems support a common set of standard AT commands. You can use a GSM modem just like a dial-up modem.

In addition to the standard AT commands, GSM modems support an extended set of AT commands. These extended AT commands are defined in the GSM standards. With the extended AT commands, you can do things like:

The number of SMS messages that can be processed by a GSM modem per minute is very low -- only about six to ten SMS messages per minute.

12.2. What is a GPRS Modem?

A GPRS modem is a GSM modem that additionally supports the GPRS technology for data transmission. GPRS stands for General Packet Radio Service. It is a packet-switched technology that is an extension of GSM. (GSM is a circuit-switched technology.) A key advantage of GPRS over GSM is that GPRS has a higher data transmission speed.

GPRS can be used as the bearer of SMS. If SMS over GPRS is used, an SMS transmission speed of about 30 SMS messages per minute may be achieved. This is much faster than using the ordinary SMS over GSM, whose SMS transmission speed is about 6 to 10 SMS messages per minute. A GPRS modem is needed to send and receive SMS over GPRS. Note that some wireless carriers do not support the sending and receiving of SMS over GPRS.

If you need to send or receive MMS messages, a GPRS modem is typically needed.

12.3. Which is Better: Mobile Phone or GSM / GPRS Modem?

In general, a GSM/GPRS modem is recommended for use with a computer to send and receive messages. This is because some mobile phones have certain limitations comparing to GSM/GPRS modems. Some of the limitations are described below:

Besides the above issues, mobile phones and GSM/GPRS modems are more or less the same for sending and receiving SMS messages from a computer. Actually, you can consider an AT-command-enabled mobile phone as "GSM/GPRS modem + keypad + display + ...".

There is not much difference between mobile phones and GSM/GPRS modems in terms of SMS transmission rate, since the determining factor for the SMS transmission rate is the wireless network.

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